Do you suffer from fear of missing out?

Emperor PenguinsIs this a trick question? Who doesn’t?

But how far will you go for yourself and even your kids, to avoid it?

As much as I tell myself I’m more than happy not to be at that party – seriously, I’m so tired tonight I wouldn’t have gone if they’d begged me to – it’s still a little irksome that even Glenda was invited.

The fear of missing out, a.k.a the need to fit in, is particularly strong at two key times in a girl’s life: as a teenager and as a mother.

During high school, finding a secure peer group is extremely important. The way most kids achieve this is by blending in. They wear the same clothes, like the same music and even pretend to think the same things to fly under the radar, carried along with the group under its protective wing. The fear of being left on your own is very real, and the actuality of it can lead to dire consequences – think ostracised teens with guns. As social animals with a real psychological need to connect, wanting to belong is part of the human condition.

After high school however, we seem to get a better grip on this vulnerable feeling. We learn a bit more about ourselves,  go to Uni and/or get jobs and basically get on with our lives as young adults. We like to think we’ve left our teenage angst behind us.

Until we become mothers.

As new mothers, the first thing we think we’re missing out on is our careers. But that’s because we are. We’re also missing out on the social networks that go along with the working world. We may try to keep up with it for a while – sure I can come to Friday night drinks (after I change my whole feeding schedule for the preceding week to squeeze out a few hundred mils of breast milk to leave with the baby, then find something to wear that fits my floppy tummy and enormous boobs, and get my partner to arrange to leave work early even though he has to deliver on a new project by the weekend). Sure I can come – piece of piss. So you keep that up for about 2 weeks. Then what?

Some of us look towards another type of network: the mothers group. Even though mothers groups have copped a lot of flak over the years, I actually think they’re a stroke of genius. God knows I wasn’t the type to go up to a group of strangers and try to make new friends, but thankfully a mothers group puts you in the situation where this is normal. They break the proverbial ice and allow you to feel like you really are part of a group. Because you are. You’re all new mothers who collectively know four fifths of f*#k all about mothering. Viola! Instant bonding. 15 years after I joined mine, I’m still incredibly grateful for their place in my life.

(I know this is not everyone’s experience. Sorry if it’s not yours).

Then the babies grow a bit older and head off to school. Now this is where I’ve seen it all go a bit pear shaped.

Perhaps it’s being back, literally, physically, in the school yard that reignites all those childhood insecurities and intensifies the need to fit it. But I’ve seen some parents go just a wee bit wacko in their quest to make sure that they and their children are part of the gang. While play dates, and ‘kiddy dinners’ and joining sports teams and enrolling in after school activities are all fine and dandy in and of themselves, doing it every single blessed afternoon is probably a bit much. We inevitably run the risk of neglecting to teach our kids how to just be, at home, alone. And to feel that it’s enough.

I would love to take us all in a big collective calming hug and say chill, in the long run it’s going to be ok. Really it is. No matter how hard you try, your children will no doubt have moments when they realise that they are different to their friends in some way, and that’s ok.

I’m concerned that our loving wish to spare our children from feelings of being left out will eventually come back to bite them on the bum, as they will have no inner reserves to fall back on to acknowledge that they’re good enough just as they are.

So let’s just all take a nice deep breath, put on our Uggies and stay home with our kids and do absolutely nothing.

My youngest had just started school and I knew I wanted to work again, but I felt lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do after all those years as a stay at home mum.
Gabrielle helped me understand what I thrive at, and it became clear to me what I did and didn’t want to do, going forward.
I felt understood and seen as a whole person. Thank you.

Elise, 42

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